Although minor metal tantalum was ready to soar this time last year, the economic crisis finally hit the exotic metal. Due to a miniscule size and weight, tantalum powder is often used for electronic components, ranging from personal computers and cellular telephones to digital cameras and automotive electronics. However, sales for these electronic components are currently falling fast — and tantalum demand can’t help but follow the downward spiral.
Tantalum alloys, with high melting points and above-average ductility, are also used for much larger projects: jet engine components, nuclear reactors, and even missile parts. In addition, tantalum is used for orthopedic implants. But these extra uses still don’t make a difference in the flailing market. According to Purchasing.com, “Talison Minerals, the Western Australian producer of 30 [percent] of the world’s supply of tantalum, has reduced operations and slashed 200 jobs because of the global financial crisis, softening demand from end users and sales at discounted prices by miners in Central Africa with alleged poor health and safety records.”
Talison plans to stick with this lowered output until demand rises, but prices certainly aren’t gaining momentum. “Tantalite ore has been stuck in a $36-$37/lb transaction price average for months but processed tantalum prices has been falling steeply off the mid-2008 peak of $101/kilogram,” Purchasing.com adds.